Looking toward recovery, with climate in mind

I wrote earlier this week that C2ES is committed to carrying on with our vital work in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. I’d now like to outline more specifically how our ongoing efforts can help contribute to our nation’s economic recovery once we are past the immediate health crisis.

There is no question that our most urgent tasks are containing the spread of COVID-19, equipping our health care system to cope with its devastating consequences, and providing immediate assistance to the families, workers, cities, and industries suffering most directly from the economic fallout. We are encouraged that lawmakers in Washington have reached agreement on a $2 trillion economic stabilization plan.

But we can’t afford to pause long in our efforts to contain a longer-term threat that will still be with us once the pandemic subsides: the climate crisis. And in the further stages of economic recovery efforts likely to be launched in the months ahead, there will be many opportunities to tackle both crises together.

Over the past two years, through our Climate Innovation 2050 initiative, C2ES has worked closely with leading companies to chart pathways toward decarbonizing the U.S. economy. Our recent report, Getting to Zero: A U.S. Climate Agenda, outlines the policies needed over the coming decade to put the United States on the path to carbon neutrality. We continue to work on many fronts to advance these solutions.

But we also believe these efforts can help address the immediate crisis still unfolding. In particular, we’d like to help ensure that the vast public resources being devoted primarily to economic recovery are channeled in ways that serve related critical needs such as climate action. We can achieve the needed immediate economic recovery while we also invest to build a more sustainable economy for the future.

Drawing on the 150+ recommendations contained in Getting to Zero, we will work with stakeholders and policymakers over the coming weeks and months to identify thoughtful ways to speed the nation’s economic recovery while also strengthening climate action. One of our first steps is inviting your ideas on the most promising ways to simultaneously address both priorities (see below).

For instance, ramping up programs to retrofit homes to improve their energy efficiency can create jobs while reducing both carbon emissions and household energy bills. Similarly, investments in modernizing the electric grid, expanding broadband access and other infrastructure improvements can pay long-term economic and climate dividends while strengthening resilience to future disasters.

We plan to work closely with others to cull ideas like these that can be deployed quickly at the federal, state and local levels.

In the long term, an effective climate response will require a comprehensive set of policies like those outlined in Getting to Zero, including robust economy-wide and regulatory measures. Our Climate Innovation 2050 initiative will continue working toward these essential outcomes. In our present situation, though, we think the priority should be investments and incentives that provide the greatest economic relief and return.

In shaping our recommendations, we’ll be guided by the following principles:

  • Recovery first – We must prioritize actions that can create jobs and get businesses back on their feet as quickly as possible, pending health and safety guidelines. At the same time, we should favor investments that provide a stronger foundation for continued economic growth over the long term.
  • Carbon-reducing – In weighing recovery options, we should favor those that help reduce carbon emissions in the near term or lay the foundation for deeper reductions down the road, rather than those that risk deepening our reliance on high-carbon technologies and products.
  • Leveraging private investment – As with any major infusion of public resources, particularly those aimed toward long-term economic recovery, we should prioritize the outlays and approaches that can maximally mobilize private capital to produce the greatest possible multiplier effect.
  • Helping the vulnerable – As we emphasize in Getting to Zero, our climate efforts must provide for a just transition to a zero-carbon future. As the pandemic exacerbates underlying economic inequities, it’s especially vital that our response prioritizes the needs of frontline communities, the newly unemployed and other vulnerable populations.
  • Strengthening resilience – The pandemic is exposing weaknesses in our ability to cope quickly and effectively with large-scale disruptions. As we absorb those lessons, we should steer resources toward strengthening critical infrastructure, communications and collaboration among all levels of government to better equip us to respond to future crises, including those resulting from climate change.

With these principles in mind, we will be drawing on our extensive work to date, reaching out to our partners and networks, facilitating discussions, and undertaking fresh analysis to identify practical ideas for policymakers at all levels.

We very much value your input as we move forward. Please write to us at to share your ideas.

We will keep you posted on our progress and look forward to sharing our recommendations as they emerge. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to do your utmost to protect yourself, your family and your community in these challenging times.